The Atlanta Falcons just suffered their third consecutive losing season with a 4-12 record, after finishing 7-9 in 2018 and 2019. As a veteran team with playoff expectations going into every one of those past three campaigns, it leaves a particularly sour taste in your mouth when you consider all of the failures.
Falcons fans have sat through yet another unsuccessful era of coaching and front office leadership if our definition of success is ultimately winning the Super Bowl at least once. Dan Quinn is the 16th Head Coach in franchise history (the 12th who spent more than one year with the team). Thomas Dimitroff is the 11th General Manager in franchise history. Neither Quinn, Dimitroff, nor any of their predecessors have ever lead the team to ultimate glory, though nobody got closer than they did.
The average Falcons fan has had to sit through a lot of pain, heartbreak and anguish in his or her life of fandom.
I can do my best to describe to you how difficult it has been, but at the young age of 24 I don’t think my descriptions would do the experience of Falcons fandom a complete justice. I can only imagine the first hand experiences some of our older Falcons fans have gone through — the ones who can recall the pain of 1980 and the details of perpetual irrelevance in the first 25 years of this franchise’s existence outside of 1980.
I don’t mean to wax poetic here, but I do feel the need to say that there is a light at the end of the tunnel — there has to be. Every single franchise that became a dynasty started out as a team that had never won anything before.
I’m not saying the Falcons will become the next great dynasty — after all, we’re just hungry for one right now — but there’s a lesson to be learned about patience when analyzing the great dynasties of the past, and those who seem poised to be next.
Before the New England Patriots brought in Bill Belichick and essentially lucked into Tom Brady, both of whom steered them toward six Super Bowl titles in an 18-year period, they were a franchise who had a history of losing in their first 41 years of existence. Much like the Falcons, they had appeared in and lost two Super Bowls, and were for the most part irrelevant outside of those two seasons.
That initial Super Bowl pretty much came out of nowhere, as the Patriots went 8-8 and 5-11 in the seasons preceding 2001 and they didn’t have Brady at the top of their depth chart going into that year. New England actually had the sixth-worst preseason odds of winning the Super Bowl, and their projected over/under going into that year was 6.5 wins (they went 11-5).
The Kansas City Chiefs are reigning Super Bowl champions, and they look like they’ll be the next dynasty.
The Chiefs won Super Bowl 2 before entering a 22-year draught of no playoff wins. They enjoyed some modest playoff success under head coach Marty Schottenheimer in the ‘90s, winning three playoff games and peaking with a lone AFC Championship appearance in 1993 (their best season since that Super Bowl title, before 2019).
Kansas City suffered another 22-year draught of no playoff wins after that 1993 season, breaking the seal with a 2015 Wildcard win against Brian Hoyer and the Houston Texans. Their fortunes changed when they hired Andy Reid in 2013, and when they made a bold draft day trade up to select Patrick Mahomes in 2017.
An exceptional hire of a head coach, an identification of a franchise quarterback and good moves from the front office to surround that quarterback with the talent to help elevate him and to give that head coach something to work with has resulted in a complete culture change and one of the most dominant teams we’ve seen in recent memory. The Chiefs finished the 2020 season with the most wins in the NFL and are expected to continue terrorizing the rest of the AFC for years to come.
Speaking of Andy Reid, his former squad — the Philadelphia Eagles — are another team that had never won a Super Bowl with him charge despite making it to the big game in 2004, and earning five NFC Championship appearances over a nine-year stretch under his leadership.
Philadelphia’s 2017 title also came seemingly out of nowhere, as they had missed the playoffs in each of the three seasons prior (including back to back 7-9 seasons in 2015 and 2016) and were 50/1 longshots to win it all going into that year. That Eagles team was the perfect example of catching lightning in a bottle and going on an immortal run.
These are just a few examples of a franchise’s fortunes changing for the better after a series of historic struggles.
I understand the counter-argument that will be made here. For every New England, Philadelphia and Kansas City, there is also a Detroit, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
The Lions have one playoff win in the Super Bowl era. The Bengals very narrowly lost two Super Bowls to the 49ers in the ‘80s and haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. After “The Fumble” and “The Drive” broke Cleveland hearts in the 1980s, the Browns have been a broken franchise which is just now making its second playoff appearance since their rebirth in Cleveland in 1999 following the original franchise’s departure to Baltimore.
However, all of these franchises have had notoriously terrible ownership throughout their struggles and through today. The Falcons have not only had more success over the past decade than these franchises have had combined over the past number of decades, but Arthur Blank has shown a willingness to invest in his football team and has been a beloved figure with the Falcons since buying the franchise in 2002.
The greatest era in Falcons history, as sad as it is to type that, has come since Blank purchased the team. Atlanta has won six playoff games in a 19-year stretch between 2002-2020. The franchise had won four playoff games in 36 years before Blank’s arrival.
Arthur Blank helped upgrade the status of the Falcons from perennial losers to a respectable franchise that’s still yet to get over the hump. Perhaps this next regime will be the one that oversees a champion in Atlanta. It can happen seemingly out of nowhere, as NFL history has demonstrated.